The Thorpe Award representative looked equal parts concerned and agitated as he paced through the Ohio State press box Saturday morning having just received word that the player he was presumably there to watch — Buckeye cornerback Denzel Burke — wasn’t going to be playing.
It was certainly not the news that anybody wanted to hear, especially somebody who represents the college football award for the nation’s top defensive back.
The travel, the hotel, the $50 Uber on a game day from an airport hotel, the dueling sound systems of street preachers, local radio preview shows, and ESPN and FOX’s national preview shows all blaring at once.
It’s a lot to deal with, and then is essentially all for naught once the injury report comes out.
But sometimes good things can happen when we just go with it.
Like when you’re on vacation at an all-inclusive resort and you lose your wallet. Yeah, it sucks and you have to cancel credit cards, but once that headache is done, why not just try to put it out of your mind and enjoy the stay? Everything is already paid for, so you may as well get your money’s worth. And who knows, you might actually have a pretty good time.
I don’t know if that’s what the Thorpe Award rep did, but he eventually made it to his seat. And even if he didn’t set out to have a good time, there’s no way a guy who is sent around the country to watch defensive backs couldn’t have enjoyed what he saw from the Buckeyes in their 20-12 win over the Nittany Lions.
On Penn State’s second play from scrimmage, quarterback Drew Allar thew a pass to the right sideline that junior cornerback Jordan Hancock broke on and knocked down before it could reach its intended target.
The tone was set early, and it’s a tone that this Ohio State secondary has been setting all season long. The secondary adopted the moniker “BIA” years ago, which stands for “Best In America.” They have not lived up to that name for the prior three seasons, but they have returned with a force this season.
There were no weak spots in the Ohio State secondary, and they did it without arguably their best player.
And it is definitely an argument.
Nickel safety Sonny Styles finished with four tackles and a sack. Free safety Josh Proctor was fantastic, posting four tackles, a tackle for loss on third and two, and also broke up a pair of passes. Strong safety Lathan Ransom was as solid as ever, notching two tackles and a PBU.
Hancock, who is normally Ohio State’s nickel back on passing downs, started in Burke’s place on the outside and finished with five tackles and a PBU. At the other corner was Davison Igbinosun, who tallied five tackles and a tackle for loss. He also had a near interception on a scramble drill late in the second quarter.
Then there is also a name to watch for down the road — true freshman Jermaine Mathews, Jr. Mathews came in at corner on the downs where Hancock went back to nickel and finished with three tackles and a pass break up.
They have been ninjaic brutes all season long. If you need physicality, they have no problem getting messy. If you need something sharp and clean, they have just the scalpel.
This is a secondary that is playing with more confidence than a tight-rope walker on a sidewalk. They’re having fun and they’re creating misery for the opposition.
Penn State tried a reverse flea-flicker, but there were defenders waiting for the pass to be thrown. They tried a double pass later on, but the Buckeyes had three defenders covering two receivers. The Nittany Lions had to resort to gadgets, but BIA was ready.
Even when they give up catches, the coverage is right there. They also aren’t missing tackles. As the last line of defense, they have done a fantastic job of moving that fence closer and closer to the line of scrimmage.
Drew Allar completed 18 of his 42 passes on Saturday for 191 yards, with 73 of those yards coming on PSU’s final drive of the game against a prevent defense. Prior to that final drive, he was 10-of-30 for 118 yards passing.
The Ohio State defense now leads the nation in yards per attempt allowed (4.9).
Sure, it’s too bad that the Thorpe Award representative didn’t get a chance to watch Denzel Burke in person. What he got instead was a look at a handful of other Buckeye defensive back who merit recognition for being at the top of their respective games right now as well.
“BIA” doesn’t just mean “Best In America.”
It also means “Back In Action.”
If things keep going this way, the next time somebody from the Thorpe Award shows up, don’t be surprised if they choose to lose their wallet on purpose and just enjoy the show.